Child deaths in Queensland have started to tick back up over the past two years, bucking an overall downward trend over the past two decades, a new report has found.
The Deaths of children and young people Queensland 2021-22 annual report, released on Thursday, found that 410 children had died in Queensland during the reporting period.
Of those, 259 died of “natural causes” which includes perinatal conditions and contracting diseases, while 84 died from “external causes” including things like drowning or road accidents.
There were also 53 children whose cause of death had not been concluded by the time the report was compiled, while 14 child deaths remain a mystery even after investigations.
There was a noticeable rise in the number of children dying from sudden unexpected deaths in infancy (SUDI), which includes Sudden Infant Death syndrome (SIDS).
“In 2021–22 there were 44 sudden unexpected infant deaths in Queensland – the highest number of SUDIs in 8 years,” the report found.
“These deaths continue to represent a considerable proportion of infant deaths.”
The report also found that the general trend of child deaths in Queensland had gone up over the last two years, bucking the overall trend.
The report pointed to SUDI deaths rising, as well as a 10-year high of children dying in traffic accidents – 33 in 2021-22 – as the main drivers of the rise.
A number of risk factors for SUDIs have already been identified, including low birth weight and neonatal health problems, but the report could not say exactly what was causing the rate of SUDIs to increase after a long period of falling numbers.
Queensland Family and Child Commissioner Luke Twyford wrote in his introductory letter to the report that they would work proactively to gain more insight into SUDIs.
“A key strategy to support child death and injury prevention is to make data held in the Register available for research, public education, policy development and program design,” he said.
“We … contributed to several initiatives to improve infant sleep environments and reduce the risk of sudden infant death.”
Despite the rise in deaths happening during the years of the global COVID-19 pandemic, there is no immediate indication that it has contributed to the rising numbers.
A child dying from COVID-19 is classed as “natural causes” under the reporting framework, which views all disease deaths in that category.
There were just two child deaths from COVID-19 recorded across the five-year reporting period.
The report also referred to external research to show there had not been a noticeable increase in youth suicide rates due to COVID-19.
The number of young people who took their own life in the reporting period, 20, was down from relatively high numbers in the years previous.
Indigenous children continued to be overrepresented in child mortality figures, with a mortality rate 2.4 times higher than for non-Indigenous children.